The slow bounce back

Jan 14

I’m feeling the end of the slide today.  I hope that for the next almost-tw0-weeks I’ll be able to operate as Almost Normal Mommy/Wife/Jen.  The slide is rough.  It’s hard to have the flu for a week every three weeks for months.  I’m now halfway through the Chemo Rainbow, though, so I’m making excellent progress.  I’ll embrace my almost-two-weeks of relative strength and energy and make the most of it.  Let the frolicking commence!

I went to the oncology office yesterday for blood work.  The nurses access my port (ie, stick a needle into my port) so they can draw blood.  They run the blood right there in the office and a whole spew of numbers come back.  They tell me science-y things about my hemoglobin, my white blood cell count, my platelets, and my red blood cell count.  They say, yes, my counts are low enough that I should feel tired (I do), I should feel achey (I do), I should feel worn down (I do).  I decide it is nice having a piece of paper validating all of my symptoms.  Right?  They also reiterate that my body, while running low, is on the mend and things should start to improve.  Good news.

As I left the oncology office I caught the eye of the woman nearest the door and we started to catch up, “How are you?/Fine.  You?/Fine.  Good counts.  Cute hat./You too.”  As I glanced up I see that the entire Yellow Posse was all there in the waiting room.  Last Monday, Chemo Day, there were five of us who all wore yellow.  For now, we’re all on the same treatment schedule: we get “hit” every third week.  We’re in those chairs together for 4-6 hours; we trade side effect secrets, where to get cute/soft/warm hats, cancer perk stories.  Seeing those ladies in the waiting room, all of us “in the know” enough to get appointment early in the day to avoid long wait times, all of us in our warm hats, reminded me that We Can Do Hard Things.  That Chemo Room, I’ll tell you, it gets me every time.  It is a sacred space.

Below I’ve answered a random assortment of your questions.  (More “Ask Me” questions and answers coming soon, including “All About Brad*”, “Positivity/Why Me?”).  You can continue to ask in the comments or email me if you wish.

*If he will let me.  🙂

How did you spend your 10th anniversary?

It was a great day!  We were in Virginia, staying at Brad’s brother’s home.  I was in between Orange Chemo and Yellow Chemo; the “good stretch” where I felt pretty strong.  Brad’s brother and wife were our hosts, along with their three kids (5, 4 and 4), and Brad’s parents were there too.  We spent time playing with all the cousins and their new toys.  We had a fake ball-drop at about 7:30pm for the five kids.  They had their first Shirley Temple drinks in plastic champagne flutes.  We were the best grown-ups in the world because we let the kids blow noise-makers for a long, long, long time.  We then put the kids to bed.  Cheers!  The adults played games and shared a champagne toast at midnight.  I kissed my love at midnight for the 10th year in a row.  Cheers to 2014!

Question from a friend: Do you remember when we were neighbors in Iowa and we were all outside the front of my house with our kids, and one of them started screaming, “Snake, snake!!!” so we both ran over and I ran up to the snake (which was holding itself up in the grass to see the commotion) and grabbed it around the neck (do snakes have necks??). Your face was priceless. I remember you saying that you thought I was running over the rescue the kids and possibly kill it and never dreamed I would grab it. I didn’t know if you thought it was funny or if it traumatized you forever. Do you remember that??

LOL.  This is hilarious, thank you for reminding me of the memory!  Yes, this really happened.  I thought we were racing to ‘save the children’, and you, my friend, raced to save the snake.  Which, in hindsight, was clearly the right move.  Our brood was far more dangerous to the little guy than he was to them.  But it did take my brain a while to catch up with reality!

Will you be at the Alumni Write: Doe Bay 2014 Workshop (the follow up to the one I went to last April in Washington)?

I would love to go to the reunion weekend, to write, to soak in the greenery, to see my write-mates from one year ago.  Right now it is in the “can I make this work?” box: medically, familially, logistically, financially.  I know for sure that my soul wants to be there.

Did the girls like their Christmas presents?

Yes!  Of course!  We noticed a milestone this year where Maren, at 6, had specific things she wanted.  She put them on her list, wrote to Santa, talked to her friends, and talked to us about them.  She was so hopeful that I think she was slightly stressed that she wouldn’t  get what she wanted.  Brad and I stuck with the “Something you want, something you Need, something Special and something to Read” gift tradition that we started a few years ago.  For her “want”, Maren got the American Girl doll Ruthie, and Greta got a Bitty Twin doll whom she named Sis.  These were the big hits for our little family Christmas, though they were quite dazzled by the extended family Christmas’ we had, too.

How is the Wish List coming?

The “plan” Brad and I are following is: hope for the best, plan for the worst, and celebrate today.  Part of that plan is that we are making the memory, saying yes when we might otherwise say no, taking the trip, and experiencing life to the fullest.  One implication is that we’re actively planning a number of trips.  When I look back on 2014 in 20 30 40 48 1/4 years, I want to say, “Whoa, that was an indulgent year of adventures–boy, do I have a lot of awesome memories from that year!”

I’m taking Maren on a mother-daughter trip to New York City over her spring break.  I haven’t been to New York City since spending a weekend there with Brad (and his family) when we were dating.  This is outside my box, but I think it’s going to rock.  I’m in the process of planning our itinerary–somewhat daunting for me.  However, I’m super-psyched for my girl and me to take on the Big Apple together.

Brad and I are going to Hawaii to celebrate 10 years of us.  He’s planning it, and I know very little about the details.  Surprises!  Anticipation!  Woohoo!

Even more adventures are in the works, but, people, we are celebrating today.  And I. am. so. excited.

What well-intentioned comments are not good to hear?

I try to receive well-intentioned comments for what they are: well-intentioned.  No one (seriously, no one) is out to be bitter or vindictive in these matters, so giving the benefit of the doubt is actually easy for me to do.  Sometimes people say the wrong thing in such a wrong way that it turns into a really funny moment.  I’ve had lots of inappropriate laughter both on the giving and the receiving end.  It’s a testimony of how hard it is to do hard stuff well.

That being said, if you find yourself connecting with a person who is in a craptacular situation, it is always nice to receive a sincere smile, eye contact, and a statement of “I’ll be praying for you/sending positive thoughts your way/thinking of you.”  That’s enough.  Acknowledge the situation and express your love.

If you want to do more, do something for that person/family.  (Doing something — anything — is so much better than asking what you can do.)  Every single cancer person I know, myself included, has a hard time answering “what can I do?”

How do I decide when to write?  What is my writing process?  Does my writing set my heart on thankfulness? Do I thrash it out while writing?

I always want to write.  Writing grounds me and gives me freedom.  I am told I’m unusual as a writer because I edit very little.  I find that the less editing I do, the more I like it.  The more you like it, too.

Ember.  That’s the best way to describe how I write.  You know, embers are those hot little orange-y glowing bits that are either the end of a fire or the beginning of a fire.  My blog posts are like that: they disappear in a lost moment–a poof of smoke, or they are fed, grown, and given life.  It is entirely depending on the ember-tender (me) and how I prioritize my day.  Writing happens on the days that I stoke, tend, fuel, and revere the ember.  It takes time, energy, and sanctuary.

My writing is a true reflection of who I am and how I feel.  I think/hope/feel it is transparent.  My real life friends (right, friends?) tell me that it allows them to know more of a Jen they already know.  A reader asked, “Does writing set my heart on thankfulness?”, and to that I say no.  My heart is thankful.  My writing is the story of my heart.




  1. I’m so glad to hear you’re on the mend once again, and wishing for a wonderful almost-two-weeks for you!
    As usual, I love soaking up everything you write — so much of it echoes my own thoughts/experiences, but you always have me thinking more deeply too.
    Warm thoughts to you & your beautiful little family!

    • Lisa Smith /

      I love you so much Jen. Praying for you often from the depths of my heart. You are so very precious, enjoyed, appreciated and inspirational.

  2. Your ember description of writing a blog post is exactly how I feel about it, too. I just never came up with the words — and now you have done it for me!
    Doing today well is something I’m trying to remember when in the throes of a really busy work week/month. “If Jen can do today well when undergoing chemo” then I need to remember the same for myself when those embers are scattered and cooling instead of getting onto paper typed into the computer.

  3. Lisa Smith /

    oops that’s so weird… my comment went as a reply….

  4. Your writing being the story of your heart; thank you for sharing that heart. You are sharing your healing. And I am blessed. And I am not alone.

  5. People are asking great questions! I am excited to hear that you are coming out of the slide and look forward to hearing more about your trips!

  6. Maureen /

    A thought for your New York trip if you haven’t already thought it. The American Girl store has a dinner. It was a little pricey ($25-ish pp) but I thought the value was great. She can take her girl and they set up a spot for the girl at he table. We got there early and shopped around. I took my 6 yr old (at the time) and we had a blast. That was my first time in NYC by myself and I think we had an awesome trip!

    Thanks for sharing yourself. It’s so strange as you know for us all in internet land to connect with you but you have no clue about me. That’s a gift 🙂


  7. Bonnie BJ /

    Good morning to you! ! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think and pray for you and your day !! Your journey is significant to me, to your friends, your family but most importantly the Lord !! HE loves You and the encouragement that flows out of you. That is the Gift that your life is !! Have a great day Jen !!

    • You truly do speak from the heart….my kind of language…glad the slide is almost over and you are sliding back up 🙂


  8. kathy swim /

    You go girl!!!!!!!!!! Relating chemo slide to the flu is a very good comparison. At least we can plan for it! I’m going thru my first Adrimyicin slide. It sure makes you appreciate when you’re feeling normal/fantastic! I pray for you and your family every night. Keep up the good fight for 48 1/2 years. I just need 20+. God bless you all!

  9. Tiffany Green /

    Beautiful post today! Love all your answers, love your words, and love your heart! Can’t wait to hear about your trips! It all sounds wonderful!

  10. Hi Jen! Thank you so much for writing about your experiences. Your blog affects us readers in so many positive ways. One of the best things is reminding us to make memories.

    It is great to hear that you are making travel plans, and I am extremely happy to hear about your trip to NYC with Maren! My thirteen year old daughter and I were in NYC (just the two of us) for the Macy’s parade over Thanksgiving. It was the best bonding experience ever. At the time, we were disappointed about the rainy weather we were having. Looking back on it, one of our favorite memories is walking to dinner and then to see the Lion King with the rain pouring down. We were chit-chatting, avoiding puddles, and hugging side by side under our single umbrella. It was a long, rainy, and beautiful walk. I hope you have a wonderful time in NYC, including just a little bit of rain:-)

    You are always in my thoughts and prayers. Love to you and your family.